What is your name and which Alopecia UK support group do you lead?
My name is Julie and I lead the Hertfordshire (North) support group.
How long has the Hertfordshire (North) support group being going?
The group is very new and had its first meeting in May 2016.
How often do you meet?
We have a meeting booked every other month (although we have met for coffee in between meetings too).
Why did you decide to become a support group leader?
I have had alopecia areata since I was 14 years old. I only recently found out about Alopecia UK and since finding them have made more progress in accepting my condition and improving my self esteem around it than I had done in the previous 17 years. I can only imagine what a difference it would have made to me when I was diagnosed as a teenager if I knew that there were so many other people out there with the condition with a wealth of experience and a listening ear to offer. Having found Alopecia UK, I wanted to play my part in ensuring that their services reached as many people as possible. There was no support group in my local area and Amy told me what a difference these groups make to people with alopecia so this felt like a natural place to start.
Do you always meet in the same venue?
We currently meet at a lovely pavilion in a beautiful park in Hitchin.
What can people expect from a Hertfordshire (North) support group meeting?
Expect a warm welcome, a cup of tea and to meet a really lovely bunch of people. We have only had one 'official' meeting but it was very connecting. No one had met before, we are different ages, have different types of alopecia, have had the condition for different lengths of time and are at different points on the journey. And we had a really great two hours sharing stories and experiences. It is very supportive in that everyone is just up for listening to each other and sharing information on local services and experiences. I will also invite guest speakers in once the group has grown a little more. (for example, a semi permanent make up artist or a wig supplier).
What is the best thing about leading the group?
Being able to bring together such a lovely bunch of people who understand each other and can support each has been very rewarding. From just one meeting, I have seen a difference in members of the group - a growth in confidence or acceptance or just sheer relief in finding someone who has been through the type of alopecia they have. More than that, this group has become friends, it's nice to know there are people locally to have a quick coffee with if you need someone to talk to who really understands, I am so grateful to have been a part of making that happen for the people in this area.
What would you say to someone feeling nervous about attending a support group meeting for the first time?
It is natural to feel nervous about meeting new people and especially in an environment which might prompt you to expose yourself in a way you wouldn't normally. Just know that we were all a bit nervous when we first met but it was so worth taking a big deep breath and stepping through the door. There is no pressure to say anything unless you want to - and whatever you do say is absolutely fine - there will be no judgement. If you are feeling nervous, bring a friend or family member with you - we are open to all. I found that because we all had such a big thing in common, we all felt comfortable with each other very quickly. Feel free to call me beforehand and have a chat if you are unsure if you want to attend, I'm happy to answer any questions you might have and put your mind at rest.